msnbc.com
updated 9/15/2006 10:06:45 AM ET 2006-09-15T14:06:45

How hot has this summer been in the continental United States? Try the second warmest on record, behind only 1936 and the Dust Bowl era, according the the National Climatic Data Center.

"A blistering heatwave in July impacted most of the nation, breaking more than 2,300 daily records and more than 50 all-time high temperature records," according to the center, an arm of the federal government. "Additional high temperature records were broken during the first part of August."

Factor in the earlier months of 2006, and the January-August period is the warmest since records began in 1895, the center added in a report released Thursday. This January-August period eclipsed the previous record set in 1934.

The average June-August 2006 temperature for the contiguous United States was 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average of 72.1 degrees F, the center said. That's just 0.2 degrees below the 1936 record.

"Eight of the past ten summers have been warmer than the U.S. average for the same period," the center added.

The heat, combined with below-average precipitation, "worsened drought conditions throughout much of the summer for large parts of the country," the center said. "But above-average rainfall in August helped ease drought conditions in some of the most severely affected states."

Above-average rainfall in the central and southwestern U.S. improved drought conditions in some areas, but moderate-to-extreme drought continued to affect 40 percent of the country.

The Plains states, the Midwest, the Carolinas and parts of the Northeast also saw above-average precipitation in August.

"This helped reduce drought severity in other areas such as the Dakotas and parts of Oklahoma but was not sufficient to end drought in the most severely affected parts of those states," the center said.

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